Nov 28, 2010

Games as Artistic Media (Or Not) - What is Art? (Part 2)

Another student textbook entitled Handbook of Art identifies art as follows;

“Art is human emotion expressed in terms of a medium. It is the revelation of a mysterious “something” which lies within us . . . a person may be capable of giving expression to that “something” in tangible form. When these human creations attain a certain high level, we refer to them as works of art.”1

The criteria here established for something being art are that it expresses emotion, a completely unspecified “something,” and is of a “certain high level.” This is a difficult definition to work with, as it only identifies one criterion specifically enough for it to be useful as a point of comparison. Somewhat more useful is a later definition that “A work of art is man-made. It must be creative, and it must have unity.” These criteria are easier to work with. To me, the first is self-explanatory, the second means that it requires originality at some level and the engagement of the artist’s imagination in its creation, and the third means that any one work of art must be a single cohesive piece. Furthermore, the text notes that impassive, exact copies of nature are not art because they lack the touch of the artists personality and imagination – these kinds of copies of nature would likely fall under the definition of “craft” presented in Introducing Art. There are several obvious similarities between Handbook of Art and Introducing Art, and it's not unreasonable to assume that these are fairly typical textbook definitions.

Although not a reliable or authoritative source of information, I find there to be little harm in using Wikipedia for a general overview of this topic, especially when the topic is one that is subject to much debate and at least in part to do with personal opinion. At very worst, it gives a biased view that only reflects the opinion of one particular demographic (those people who choose to edit it) and I don't consider this to be wholly a bad thing when what I am seeking is a range of different opinions. At the time of viewing, the first two sentences of the Wikipedia entry on art were:

“Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions. It encompasses a diverse range of human activities, creations, and modes of expression, including music and literature.”

This is extremely broad, and rather vague, and for that reason not incredibly useful, but it does hold under its umbrella a large number of the more specific definitions which will be presented later. One of the sections in the art page is headed “Definition of the Term.” According to it, the broadest sense of art refers to any skill or craft, and it's most common modern usage is understood to denote a skill used to produce an aesthetic result. The article makes a distinction between this meaning of art and the usage of the word to mean 'fine art' or 'creative art' meaning “a skill that is being used to express the artist's creativity or to engage the audience's aesthetic sensibilities, or to draw the audience towards consideration of finer things.” (It does not make it clear what the 'finer' things are - perhaps artist's discretion, or related to the tastes of the artist's context). If the same skills are used in a 'common or practical way' or in a 'commercial or industrial way' it is not, according to the article, considered fine art, but rather 'applied art'. There is a suggestion about the value of different art here, or, specifically, art with different intentions. The 'fine artist' and others may often consider that the applied arts are of less value.

In the section Purpose of Art, under “Motivated Function of Art,” video games are specifically mentioned;
“Art as Entertainment. Art may seek to bring about a particular emotion or mood, for the purpose of relaxing or entertaining the viewer. This is often the function of the art industries of Motion Pictures and Video Games.”

and again;

“The functions of art described above are not mutually exclusive, as many of them may overlap. For example, art for the purpose of entertainment may also seek to sell a product, i.e. the movie or video game.”

This suggests that video games could be considered 'applied art' but not 'fine art' under the definition of these terms given earlier in the article. Video games are mentioned again under Classification Disputes. It is noted that there has been a dispute about whether or not video games are art, and also that these classification debates usually have more to do with the cultural value of a work or medium (or rather, what it's value is perceived to be by the critics and connoisseurs of a time) than any definition of art. An example cited is;

“. . .when the Daily Mail criticized Hirst's and Emin’s work by arguing "For 1,000 years art has been one of our great civilising forces. Today, pickled sheep and soiled beds threaten to make barbarians of us all" they are not advancing a definition or theory about art, but questioning the value of Hirst’s and Emin’s work.”

This suggests that those who consider video games not to be art are often suggesting that video games have little or no cultural value, not that they are contrary to a certain definition of art. This indicates that the value of a piece is central to their understanding of what art is.
Towards its end, the article suggests some characteristics that art may possess (although it notes that art is difficult to classify). Specifically, it “tends to facilitate intuitive rather than rational understanding, and is usually consciously created with this intention. Fine art intentionally serves no other purpose.” Secondly, it is put forth that 'art' suggests a high level of skill or mastery of its medium. Thirdly, a piece of art generally needs to be judged to be of some cultural or social value/significance. What makes a piece valuable could be its aesthetic appeal, or its reflection of some element of the social, moral, political or cultural world in which it was created or was created about in a manner which is thought-provoking. Finally, the artist generally seeks to communicate something with their audience, be it a feeling or emotion, or a political or moral message, or any of a number of other things.

Next Chapter >> 

1 Handbook of Art, 7.

No comments:

Post a Comment